CHICAGO -- Johnny Oates says that being in first place at this stage of the season doesn't mean anything to him.
But the Orioles' manager does admit that his club's standing has temporarily made Glenn Davis a platoon player.
Since returning from the disabled list May 5, Davis has started only two of 10 games, accounting for nine of his 14 total at-bats. Last night, he got a pinch-hit, RBI single off Wilson Alvarez. Davis will be in the lineup today as designated hitter when the Orioles close this road trip against White Sox left-hander Greg Hibbard.
"Right now, it's a platoon situation until he [Davis] works himself back into the swing of things," Oates said last night. "Sam [Horn] will play against right-handers and Glenn against left-handers.
"If there's a situation like last week in Texas [against Bobby Witt], against a pitcher Sam has trouble with, then I might use Glenn. But otherwise they'll platoon. In the meantime he's available off the bench."
The Orioles (23-11) are off to the second-best start in their history -- and have matched the best in the American League since the Detroit Tigers went 29-5 in 1984. The Toronto Blue Jays also opened this year with 23 wins in their first 34 games.
Even though first base is one of the positions where the Orioles haven't gotten expected production, Oates said that the club's record was a factor in limited playing time for Davis. "If we had been struggling, he'd have been in there," said Oates.
The Orioles faced 12 left-handed starters in their first 24 games, but have seen only one (Minnesota's Bill Krueger) since Davis was activated. At that time, Oates said that he would not disrupt the lineup, but would work Davis in gradually.
For the time being, that means filling the DH role against left-handers. "I would imagine we'll see a few of them next weekend [when the California Angels are in Baltimore]," said Oates.
A similar situation exists for second baseman Bill Ripken, who has not played since being hit in the head with a pitch last weekend. Switch-hitting Mark McLemore has started every game since, all against right-handed pitchers.
"Billy will play tomorrow [today], and it's not written in stone that Mark will play against all right-handers," said Oates. "It's something that we'll continue to evaluate."
It's the Orioles' won-lost record, not their position in the standings, that has influenced Oates the most. "Being in first place this time of year doesn't mean anything to me," said Oates.
"I know where we are, but our position is the last thing on my mind. It's more important to know we're playing well.
"You never want to be anywhere other than first place, but with almost four- fifths of the season left I'd rather have a good record and be a game or two out than be a little over .500 and be in first place.
"You get a lot more sleep, and it's a lot more satisfying knowing you're playing well. If it was the end of the season, then you'd feel different. But it's a more confident feeling right now to be playing well than it is to be in first place."
Of course, if you can combine the two, that's the best feeling of all. And the fact that the Orioles were able to stay close enough to the Blue Jays to pass them this weekend had to be comforting to Oates.
No matter how much you try to downplay being in first place -- at any time -- it's still the only place to be.